Bodies in Blue: Disability in the Civil War North
Series: UnCivil Wars Ser.
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: University of Georgia Press (July 1, 2019)
In the popular imagination, Civil War disability is virtually synonymous with amputation. But war affects the body in countless ways, many of them understudied by historians. In Bodies in Blue, Sarah Handley-Cousins expands and complicates our understanding of wartime disability by examining a variety of bodies and ailments, ranging from the temporary to the chronic, from disease to injury, and encompassing both physical and mental conditions. She studies the cases of well-known individuals, such as Union general Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, alongside many cases drawn from the ranks to provide a more comprehensive view of how soldiers, civilians, and institutions grappled with war-related disability in the Civil War–era North.
During the Civil War and long after, the bodies of Union soldiers and veterans were sites of powerful cultural beliefs about duty and sacrifice. However, the realities of living with a disability were ever at odds with the expectations of manhood. As a consequence, men who failed to perform the role of wounded warrior properly could be scrutinized for failing to live up to standards of martial masculinity. Under the gaze of surgeons, officers, bureaucrats, and civilians, disabled soldiers made difficult negotiations in their attempts to accommodate impaired bodies and please observers. Some managed this process with ease; others struggled and suffered. Embracing and exploring this apparent contradiction, Bodies in Blue pushes Civil War history in a new direction.